Winter doesn’t want to let go. Although it’s clear and sunny, there’s still a nip in the air. Apart from a few horse chestnut leaves, most large trees remain tightly in bud. Hedgerows are trying to wake, and bright ivy and patches of greening hawthorn slip by as I drive west to the Penrice Estate.
Inside the Estate, moles have been active; it’s that time if year. Their earth mounds litter the sheep-grazed meadow, dotted by celandines and daisies. In the formal gardens, the last snowdrops hang on, peeping out amongst extraordinary carpets of purple crocuses. Under great beeches even more crocuses, and clumps of primroses, many growing around limestone outcrops, compete with a mass of brilliant yellow daffodils shining in the late morning sunlight.
The Serpentine Lake is free of lilies, and the winter wildfowl seem to have left. It’s that inter regnum period between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. There’s very little sound, it’s more or less silent; I hear the squeaking wings of a ravens as it passes low above the canopy. In a sheltered spot a few violets look feeble; they’ll be out in force here once the weather turns warmer. In front of the old orangery, snake’s head fritillaries are in bud; I’ll need to come back in a week or so to see these most wonderful flowers at their best. Inside the orangery, withering fruits of oranges and lemons from last year hang from small pot-bound trees, but already new green ones are getting ready to ripen in the months ahead.
By the Garden Lane, the blond marsh is silent. New shoots of reed and yellow flag are starting to show, and the green leaves of marsh marigolds creep along the edges of pools, and under the shade of willows. I have the feeling that when spring arrives it will be quick.